A Little Anticipation from the Margins
What are your expectations of a land littered with ‘moral hazards’? A land, whose ‘historical rhythm’ is poverty, and her historical rhyme, violence. A land, whose political and economic relations are characterised by ‘ethnic networks’ where you refuse to deal with anyone outside your inner circle. A land whose social and environmental fabric is diverse and desperate.
What are your hopes for a land where a posse of primary school dropouts wait your table at the ubiquitous teashops? Many of their less-endowed peers scavenge for recyclable materials at trash dumps or are child beggars. This is also where fresh-grad cabbies drive you to ‘music clubs’ at upmarket hotels, where you can pick up their former classmates for 100 USD a night. The wage of a menial worker here is about 1.5 USD per day, and the lowest quality rice will set you back no less than 50 Cents per day. Your daily basic needs are never met if you are a menial worker.
This is where private bankers do not trust their own currency, and hoard US dollars, maintaining a perpetual depreciation of the local currency. This is where the moneyed class do not trust banks and invest in prime lands in cities, turning them into some of the most expensive property markets in the world. The people here talk of their fourth-world incomes and first-world expenses.
What future holds for a land whose new apartment buildings, like her new institutions or peace initiatives, are so friable that people in search of a better mobile signal or fixing a plumbing glitch have dropped to death from the tokenistic fire escape ladders? The land whose ladies are being portrayed as gentle charmers in tourist broachers is also the land where a smashing twenty-one year old actor beat her long-tortured eighteen-year-old housemaid to death in her flat.
In an older episode, an older actor who had slapped a journalist was found guilty and fined 1.17 USD, at the end of a dramatic one-year lawsuit. Bullyism is run-of-the-mill. Underpaid and overworked bus conductors or ‘spares’ will routinely abrade you, the factory hand who is condemned to take that tattered bus day in day out, with an incredible repertoire of verbal acerbities. Women are groped in the overcrowded buses so often that they have demanded a special bus line just for them, to no avail. Nor did they find civil society’s ‘blow the whistle campaign’ very helpful in their cultural confines.
The land, infamous for child labour and child soldiers is now a new frontier for child sex tourism. A foreign journalist who lives here fears that soon, the country may be infected with ‘the Thai disease’. The blight of mass tourism is one thing. The pollution and traffic jams, caused by the affluent’s uncontrollable urge to drive, vis-à-vis the government’s utter incompetence in managing the traffic, is another. Populist politicians running for office for money, is yet another. A polarised society in a perpetual constitutional crisis beneath which the military cult always lurks is yet another…
What will become of a land where the people who had recently chanted metta sutras to their tyrannical rulers as a means of protest, are now regarded as racist against an ethnic community in western Myanmar? Of a land where the convergence of the interests of global neo-liberalism and military capitalism is at play in full swing, and whose leaders are swinging; of a land of land grabbing; a land whose comparative advantage is corruption and cheap labour, a land of privatised public services; a land where the antiretroviral drugs for the NGOs often end up in the market; a land where every penny counts, and you cheat on your income tax, if you can be bothered with the income tax at all?
These smears are not particularly unique to my homeland, Myanmar. They have been observed in all resource-cursed nations marked by structural violence and poverty. What are my anticipations for Myanmar in twenty years time then? Not so much as a Swedish Lorenz curve or another Myanmar Spring, but just two simple notions of peace.
Peace as freedom from violence that should be addressed with restorative justice, and peace as freedom from abject poverty, that should be dealt with by the future Myanmar state’s commitment to equitable growth and distributive justice.
Ko Ko Thett
from International Gallerie Issue 31:
Looking Back, Looking Ahead (Burma/Myanmar)
more at http://gallerie.net/